SCOTT SIMON, host:
Amid the busyness of the holiday season, the upcoming Obama inauguration, and, to be sure, the spreading gloom of the economic crisis, we all might have overlooked a December birthday that's a real milestone. NPR's music librarian Robert Goldstein is here to remind us of what happened on Thursday.
ROBERT GOLDSTEIN: Listen carefully. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones is 65. Let me repeat that. Keith Richards is 65.
(Soundbite of song "Satisfaction")
GOLDSTEIN: As the founding guitarist of the Rolling Stones, his countless iconic guitar riffs deservedly occupy mythic status, right up there with his equally legendary drug-fueled debauched past. What you may have forgotten is that using those riffs, he has co-written some of the most acclaimed and enduring songs in all of popular music.
(Soundbite of song "Satisfaction)
Mr. MICK JAGGER: (Singing) I can't get no satisfaction. I can't get no...
GOLDSTEIN: Beyond providing the tired but not necessarily untruthful quip that this event defies both medical science and every known actuarial table, there must be a deeper significance here, right?
In today's music business, a field of endeavor where creativity can be measured in fruitfly lifespans and where a lengthy career compares unfavorably to that of the average NFL player, Keith Richards is a titan, the surprisingly still-living embodiment of everything we think of, everything it has come to mean to be a rock musician.
(Soundbite of song "Honky Tonky Women")
Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) I met a gin-soaked barroom queen in Memphis, She tried to take me upstairs for a ride...
GOLDSTEIN: In a world where we're being told what we might like based on what we liked before, it becomes ever more difficult to recognize the true archetypes who walk among us. It seems very unlikely there will ever be another Keith Richards. Who now, and from a considerable geocultural distance, could totally absorb a foreign music - in this case, black American blues and R&B - not as a tourist, but as a true believer? Then, by his instinctive expression of that assimilated music, personify the ethos of a younger generation desperate to hear itself? And, let's not forget, make an ungodly fortune in the bargain.
(Soundbite of music)
GOLDSTEIN: I've been listening to Keith from the beginning, for over 40 years. Never a guitar virtuoso in a commonly understood musical sense, his playing has always been in service to his band and its songs. As with any great artist who forges his own musical path, the continuing marvel and pleasure is not so much in how he played but in how he chose to play. Happy birthday, Keith.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. JAGGER: (Singing) Watch it!
SIMON: Robert Goldstein has been NPR's music librarian for 15 years, but in a former life he was the the guitarist for the band Urban Verbs. You're listening to Weekend Edition from NPR News.